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#EveryoneOutside Film 003: Fly Fishing With Christine Hill

Creating space through online connections.

By: Sara Sheehy + Save to a List

For Chris Hill, the outdoors feels like home.

It wasn't always that way. "I grew up in Maryland, and I was into the arts, crafts, and photography," remembers Chris. "I didn't like being outside. It's humid in Maryland during the summer, and there are a lot of bugs."

When Chris's mom won a week at an outdoors camp, Camp Calleva, at a school auction, Chris said 'no way.' But she went and spent the week climbing every day. To Chris's surprise, she loved it. She loved it so much, in fact, that she signed up for the rest of the summer. 

"It made me realize how important the outdoors and conservation is," says Chris. Looking back, it was a moment in time that shaped her future. Chris has spent the last decade as an environmental lobbyist and is currently an associate campaign director at Sierra Club. Her desire for a just, equitable and sustainable future where all people benefit from clean air, clean water, and have access to the outdoors is what keeps her motivated to continue to do this work everyday. 

She doesn't just lobby and work for sustaining the outdoors, though. When she's not working, she devotes as much time as possible exploring it, usually with a fly rod in hand.

Chris spends her summers in Haines, Alaska, fishing the big, untamed rivers in our wildest state. In the winter, Chris lives in Washington, DC, and seeks out the quiet, remote rivers and streams of Maryland and West Virginia.

Chris's interest in fly fishing began on a solo trip to Alaska, at the recommendation of one of her mentors who spent years organizing around the permanent protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. "I was at Katmai National Park, watching the bears catch salmon in their mouths on the Brooks River, and I saw people fly fishing below Brooks Falls. I asked them what they were doing, had my first lesson, and then caught a fish on my first cast," Chris recalls.

"I was hooked, then I didn't catch anything else all day," she said, laughing. " I went back to that same spot this year, and it was fun to see how far I've come."

Chris taught herself how to fly fish through podcasts and YouTube videos, before finally finding a women's group in the DC area. "I made good girlfriends from this group, who I still fish with today. It just took off from there," says Chris.

Still, Chris wasn't seeing a lot of other people of color on the streams and rivers where she fished. It was on Instagram that she started to find a diverse group of fishermen and women. 

"For me, as a black woman who fly fishes, the Instagram connections have been a game-changer. I wouldn't have had this community any other way. It fosters the ability for people to create space and community with each other," she says.

Because as much as Chris feels at home in the outdoors, there are times when she feels less than welcome. "There's been a couple of times when I'm fishing, even just with my girlfriends, and something feels weird. It's a look, or a comment, or someone will walk right through a hole you're fishing," explains Chris.

"When I'm outside, whether I'm in a small park or a remote area, that's where my soul is rejuvenated," she says. "And it's heartbreaking when someone places a fear that you don't belong...that you aren't welcome in a place you call home."

Finding community on Instagram, creates a sense of place and belonging, says Chris. "Someone will post a picture on Instagram, and I'll message them to ask 'What kind of fly is that?' and 'Where are you fishing?' Those conversations sometimes turn into meeting in person, and having a great day of fishing together."

For Chris, fly fishing is a place to let her mind escape and to feel alive. She hopes that collectively we can continue to break down barriers to access in the outdoors, so that everyone can enjoy nature and find peace. "I get so excited when I see other black people out on the trail or fishing the rivers," she says. "We are creating space and community, re-connecting with nature, something I didn't see growing up."

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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